I felt a light in me switch on.
Artist Juhan Kim examines and explores the duality between peace and anxiety in all of his works. He is especially interested in the forgotten narratives belonging to social minorities, drawing out the discrimination and embedded prejudices that they face every day. The Korean-Art major uses his own working experiences to relate to the constraints of societal pressure, and hopes to offer his audience a warm embrace through his art. In this interview, Juhan explains his favorite artwork, and the heartwarming meaning behind his distinctive style.
Please introduce yourself. Where do you usually create your artworks?
As a high schooler, when I first encountered Korean artworks I was filled with a warm, fuzzy feeling which I wanted to share with others. I enrolled in a four-year college where I explored various themes ranging from the outwardly qualities that categorize manliness versus womanhood and began to create works on the recurring theme of love.
Upon graduation, I worked as a UX/UI designer for two years but continued painting after work. However, my company collapsed after bankruptcy and while searching for the next job, I realized that the frustrations and fatigue I felt from corporate life was overwhelming. I decided to revitalize my passion by joining an artist residency, where I explored the theme of our working culture. Once my residency ended, I began to work as a designer, where I could continue creating from home. Currently, I am interested in the subject of minorities and want to share their rich diversity as well as their heartwarming stories surrounding love.
Tell us about your work process. Where do you gain new ideas/inspiration?
I gain inspiration from more immediate sources—motifs from my environment or societies at large. I feel most satisfaction from my work when I am able to depict my visions onto paper as sketches. Other than that, I jot down random thoughts and sketch simple drawings.
What is art to you, and how would you best describe your artworks?
I believe that art is a language. I am always curious to learn more about the artist whenever I visit art exhibitions.
I hope that my art can be interpreted as a warm embrace, because that was the exact feeling I received when I first encountered Korean art. I try to portray this with my techniques and the materials that I choose to use. I hope that my audience can receive the same feelings that I received.
Do you have a favorite art or art movement?
I’ve always admired a Czech photographer named Jan Saudek. From his work, I learned how different genres could be used as tools carefully chosen to best create the feeling that I wanted to convey and respected him for his experimentation. While I worked in collaborative projects early on, now I am focused on developing my craft and conveying my personal emotions. I am experimenting with different art forms, from drawing to video, learning how to best incorporate elements of design and music into my work.
Do you have a favorite artwork?
I really like an artwork called ‘Switch,’ which incorporates the theme of my first solo exhibition. I created this work in the aftermath of my first company’s bankruptcy. In one of my presentations, the interviewers were intrigued by my major and asked to see some of my works instead. I showed them my artworks, explaining each piece and while doing so, I felt a light in me switch on. I used the hopefulness and passion that I felt in sharing my work with others to create this piece, and it always gives me the encouragement to keep going.
In your biography, you have said that you are interested in discussing peace and anxiety. Please explain further.
The duality between peace and anxiety is present in all of my work. I incorporate elements of social minorities, discrimination and prejudices that surround them. When creating my work, I hoped that it would give a sense of relief and assurance to those anxious to become whole and perfect. In their endless struggle, I feel that in this journey it becomes gradually harder for them to remember why they started in the first place, and wanted to express how instead of being complete, it is much more meaningful to continuously improve oneself. Becoming flawless is an unattainable standard set by society, and I want to tell my viewers it is okay to set down these expectations.
You tend to use a lot of earthy tones in your work. Is there any particular reason?
With Korean art, the fine details of the pigment cannot be seen perfectly through photography. In actuality, the work’s colors are closer to warm pastels. I decided to use reds and more earthy colors because I wanted my works to be warm.
It seems like you have a central character in your works. Tell us more.
I am not trying to depict anyone in particular, and my characters can change according to the situation or message that I am trying to convey. I receive this question quite often, especially questions surrounding sexuality, but since I was young I was never fixated with depicting a certain gender. I believe that this will not hinder my works at all. Every day we meet women that are manly and men that are more feminine. Society is constantly trying to categorize according to these binaries, yet they are meaningless at the end of the day.
Why do most of your characters have their eyes closed?
This is another question I received frequently. I hoped that my art would be able to speak for itself. The more I tried to convey my message, the more it took on the shape of a human figure. When I want the viewer to receive my message softly and easily, I paint closed eyes. Other times, when I really want to emphasize my message, the eyes are wide open to make it more striking. More than anything, I want my works to be easily approached and hope to provide some comfort to those who see it.
Can you explain your video ‘Breed’ or your print collection, ‘Betta?’
Breed and Betta are based on the same theme. When I started exploring themes of imperfection, I was creating in the Taebaek Residency and found that most of my works surrounded people who had become socialized. There, I learned that the decorative fish swimming around were specially bred to fit the aesthetic expectations of people. In particular, goldfish and betta fish were most often subject to these tests, thus the title of these works. I thought this was an accurate reflection of how difficult it can be to pursue one’s individuality in this capitalistic society, and I hope my work serves as some food for thought.
I learned that the decorative fish swimming around were specially bred…
by Juhan Kim